Islamabad has asked the World Bank to honour continued implementation of the Indus Water Treaty executed between India and Pakistan in 1960. This is in response to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remark that India is free to use the water which flows into the sea. This is not correct because according to the treaty India cannot use more than 20 per cent of the Indus waters.
The World Bank spent many years to persuade India and Pakistan to reach an agreement. I recall that afterwards Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Martial Law Administrator General Mohammad Ayub travelled in the same car as Mian Iftakharuddin who asked if they could sign an agreement on Kashmir in the same spirit. Both remained silent. Iftakharuddin was then the top Muslim League leader who had joined it after being a Congressman for many years.
According to the treaty, India could draw water from the Ravi, the Beas and the Sutlej while Pakistan from the Indus, the Chenab and Jhelum. Even though both counties felt that they could utilize the water which was flowing through their country, they refrained from doing so because of the treaty. In fact, the Indus Water Treaty is an example of an agreement that was honoured even when the two countries went to war.
Modi’s off-the-cuff remark has created consternation in Pakistan, forcing it to appeal to the World Bank to “fulfill its obligation” relating to the treaty. In a letter to World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, Pakistan Finance Minister Ishaq Dar has said the treaty did not provide for a situation wherein a party can ‘pause’ performance of its obligations and this attitude of the World Bank would prejudice Pakistan’s interests and rights under the treaty.
I think that the fear of Pakistan is exaggerated. The country does not want any alteration in the treaty. In its reaction, the World Bank has said that it has paused its arbitration in the water dispute between India and Pakistan, saying it is doing so to protect the Indus Water Treaty.
India would take no unilateral step to stop the water going unused into the Arabian Sea. However, here is a case where the two countries should sit and hammer out another treaty because the old one is outdated. Then it was thought that the water given to Rajasthan would be utilised by the rest of the country because the state with its deserts would not be able to do so. But this has turned out to be wrong. The state has utilized the water allotted to it and wants more.
When Prime Minister Modi wants to have good relations with Pakistan and has wished his counterpart Nawaz Sharif on his birthday last week, Modi would not take any step which would harm Pakistan. There were enough provocations from Islamabad like the attacks on Pathankot and Uri that killed many civilians for Modi to act unilaterally. Even otherwise, it is in the interest of both countries that peace should prevail in the region. Both would benefit. Kashmir is the problem which divides the two countries.
Representatives of both countries should sit across the table and sort it out. Nawaz Sharif unnecessarily harangued listeners on the Pakistan television networks to say that Kashmir belonged to Pakistan and there would be no peace in the region until it became part of his country. This irresponsible statement, coming as it does from a country’s Prime Minister has affected the tourist traffic to the valley still further. So much so that even Syed Shah Geelani, the pro-Pakistan Hurriyat leader, joined a procession to appeal to tourists to return to the valley. Both he and Yasin Malik, who wants the valley to be independent, were part of the procession. They were particular that the message should reach New Delhi so that it takes steps to see that the tourists return to Kashmir. The separatists in the valley do not realize that the tourists flocked to the valley believing they were visiting a part of India.
The demand of independence or the threat of disturbance has scared them. They have picked other hill resorts in India which may not be as beautiful as the valley but compare favourably with it. They would wait and see whether the peace returns before drawing up their plans for the next year. It is in the interest of Kashmiris not to disturb the status quo until they can have something better. This is possible if the three parties, India, Pakistan and the people in Kashmir, come together for a dialogue. New Delhi is not prepared for that because Islamabad has gone back on its promise not to allow its territory to be used by terrorists. This was also agreed upon when Pakistan was under General Musharraf’s rule. He went to Agra and almost signed an agreement with Prime Minster Atal Behari Vajpayee, until news leaked that India’s then Information Minister Sushma Swaraj changed the draft agreement omitting Kashmir from the text. Since then the two countries have stayed distant. Mushraff’s earlier misadventure at Kargil had only aggravated the matter. It must be said to the credit of Vajpayee that he took a bus to Lahore. I was sitting behind him when he showed me New Delhi’s telegram which said that several Hindus had been killed near Jammu. He said he did not know how the country would react about his trip to Lahore but he was determined to pick up the thread with Nawaz Sharif. The rest is history.
The Indus Water Treaty can be replaced with another treaty but the consent of Pakistan is necessary. When it has not been willing to allow drawing of electricity from the run of the river it is difficult to imagine that it would agree to the use of rivers in the Indus system even though water from them is pouring into the Arabian Sea without being used for either irrigation or hydroelectric projects.
There is a tendency in Pakistan to link everything with Kashmir, which is a complicated problem and it would take many years to solve. The revision of the Indus Water Treaty, which can satisfy both the countries, would add to the peace prospects. Let the treaty be discussed separately. The rest can follow. The only point to be taken into account is how the two countries can come closer to each other.
(The writer is a noted Journalist, Columnist and Commentator)